Nevada utility says coal-fired power project will be delayed |

Nevada utility says coal-fired power project will be delayed

LAS VEGAS (AP) ” Nevada’s main electric utility is pushing back the target date for opening a huge coal-fired power plant near Ely and accelerating plans to expand a natural gas-fired power plant near Las Vegas, company officials said Thursday.

Sierra Pacific Resources remains committed to building the coal-fired Ely Energy Center despite political and environmental opposition, said Michael Yackira, company chief executive.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been an outspoken critic of the Ely coal plant, which has also drawn opposition from a coalition of environmental groups citing the possible effects of increasing carbon dioxide emissions on global warming.

Yackira said the decision to focus on a 500-megawatt gas-fired expansion of an existing plant 35 miles north of Las Vegas before the twin 750-megawatt coal plants near Ely stemmed from projections that the federal Bureau of Land Management won’t be able to issue required permits for the Ely plants by next summer.

He said the company needs a new plant operational by 2011.

“Our responsibility is to keep the lights on,” Yackira said. “That’s why we’re leapfrogging the natural gas plant ahead of Ely.”

Chris Hanefeld, spokesman for the BLM office in Ely, said the BLM and Sierra Pacific Resources have a timeline that calls for completion of environmental impact and National Environmental Policy Act reviews in 2009.

“The BLM is committed to meeting the agreed-upon timeline,” he said.

Yackira acknowledged that the delay may increase the $3.8 billion cost for the Ely center and a related transmission line.

No cost estimates have been made for the 500-megawatt expansion of the Harry Allen Generating Station.

Charles Benjamin, Nevada office director of Western Resource Advocates, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he hoped Sierra Pacific would use the delay to more fully explore tapping energy from solar, wind and geothermal sources.

Sierra Club chief Carl Pope argued this month that coal power would become more expensive than solar or thermal power plants, and that Nevada might face expensive federal regulations with Sierra Pacific Resources’ Ely plant.

Pope also cited plans by LS Power Group, a New Jersey-based independent power company, for a rival 1,600-megwatt coal-fired power plant near Ely, and another company’s plan to build a 750-megawatt plant near Mesquite.

State consumer advocate Eric Witkoski said he has concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and other risks from the Ely plant, but said Sierra Pacific Resources subsidiary Nevada Power Co. does need to expand electricity production.

“All the while, it appears that we do need some generation, and natural gas generation may be a viable option,” he said.

The utility’s plan to begin operating the one Ely unit by 2011 and the other by 2013 counted on the BLM Ely office issuing an environmental impact statement by next summer, Yackira said.

The same office of the federal agency also is studying a big Southern Nevada Water Authority proposal to build a $3.5 billion network of pipelines to deliver water from eastern Nevada to thirsty Las Vegas.

A key component of the Ely Energy Center plan is a 250-mile transmission line from Ely to Las Vegas that would for the first time connect the northern and southern regions of the state.

Sierra Pacific officials have said they want to use relatively low-priced coal to meet demands from growing populations in Las Vegas and Reno and reduce the companies’ reliance on higher-priced natural gas.

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